It has been a while since my last blog post back in October. I have been intending to write a post on training to help expand upon some aspects raised back in October, but somehow haven't managed to. Hopefully the post will eventuate in January sometime. First though is a review of 2012.
The intention for this blog post was simply a review of my training and racing from 2012. However, with the 1st of January 2013 being exactly 35 years since I started recording my training down into a training log, I got a bit carried away after digging out my training diary from 1978. So the idea of a quick review of 35 years of racing and training seemed appealing. Unfortunately reviewing 35 years isn’t going to be quick! Hence my plan is to split the last 35 years into seven posts, each covering 5 years, starting with 1978 – 1982, so here we go!
35 Years of Training Diaries!
Firstly, why did I start recording my training on the 1st January 1978? Living in New Zealand, I was like most other kiwi boys, I played rugby. Yes from the age of 8 to 13 I played rugby for Naenae Old Boys, the local rugby club. I knew I wasn’t going to become an All Black, and I recall during my last year of playing rugby I was finding it quite demanding, with the intensity of rugby having increased significantly now that I was a teenager! At the same time, I found that I was enjoying the runs we occasionally did as part of PE at secondary school. My favourite PE run, the Summit Road run, I guess was around 2 miles. It was an out and back route, with the turnaround point being at the top of Summit Road. Yes, as you would expect from a road named Summit Road, it was a pretty tough climb up to the turn point where Mr Chen, our PE teacher would be waiting with a clip board to tick off our names! So during the winter of 1977, instead of playing rugby I joined the local running club, Hutt Valley Harriers, and had my first experiences of club racing, usually every second week, with there being a club training run on the other Saturdays when there were no races.
Although I usually finished within the second half of the field, I wasn’t last, so I really enjoyed the season of harriers, involving a mixture of cross country and road races, which ran from April though to October. Meanwhile at school, Naenae College, the occasional Summit Road runs at PE continued, and although I wasn’t doing any training, the benefit of running or racing at Harriers each Saturday was cumulating in me improving during the PE runs, so I was now finishing usually in around 3rd or 4th place, from a total of around 30 boys from the 4L and 4D PE class. Probably the most significant impact that led to me starting to record my training on the 1st January 1978, was in 1977 the arrival to Naenae College of Mr Wilby, a newly qualified music teacher from Christchurch, but most significantly he was a runner. It was during his first year at Naenae College that he established a running group that trained together each day after school. One of my friends from the 4L and 4D PE class, Jeremy Wah, had joined the group and said it was really good and suggested that I should join the group. Jeremy probably used to finish the Summit Road PE run in either 1st or 2nd place, so a better runner than me, but not that far ahead, so although the thought of joining an ‘official’ training group was a bit daunting, there was a little bit of evidence to convince me that I wouldn’t be totally out of my depth training in the newly formed training group.
I therefore resigned from my after school job at one of the local butcher shops that I had been doing each week day for the previous year and a half. I remember ‘conning’ my Mum in that I needed to quit the after school job in order to have more time available to concentrate on my School Certificate subjects (GCSE equivalent), which I would be examined on at the end of 1978. I therefore negotiated a weekly pocket money amount to compensate my loss of earning, and officially commenced my entry into the fantastic sport of endurance running in September 1977. Other runners within the Gary Wilby Training Group were, the Lucock brothers - Mark and Peter, Michael Bastion, Chris Bryant, Jeremy Wah, and also the Ritchie brothers – Glenn and Martyn. Yes, it was all boys in the group, I guess mainly due to the fact that instead of getting changed and departing from the school gym, we met and got changed in one of the music rehearsal rooms. Back in the 1970s us boys at Naenae College didn’t really worry about such things as having a shower following our training. I do recall that on occasions, one girl would join us for the after school runs, her name Fiona Tanis. She was a pretty impressive runner having run if my memory is correct 2 mins 16 secs for 800 metres as a 14 year old. A pretty impressive time! especially as my PB for 800metres as a 14 year old was only around 2 mins 35 secs! Mr Wilby would join in with us on our runs probably around twice per week, mainly for the interval sessions. Without knowing how fortunate we were, Gary Wilby, commonly referred to as the wizard, (you’ll see why in the photo below), was not only a good quality club runner, probably around 25th best within the Wellington region, but more importantly a very knowledgeable running coach, having trained with some of the best runners in Christchurch prior to coming to Wellington, and since arriving in Wellington, being a member of the Victoria University Harrier Club, and therefore currently trained with many of the best runners in Wellington, including the world famous Professor Roger Robinson, the inventor of ‘Sausage Sessions’.
An interesting aside, I have just finished reading an excellent book written by Keith Livingstone titled Healthy Intelligent Training – The Proven Principles of Arthur Lydiard. For a while Keith Livingstone lived in Wellington and he was also a member of the Victoria University Harrier Club. Whether many of his the ideas he shares within his book were developed during his time at Wellington it isn’t totally clear, one thing that is clear though is that the training we were doing within the Wilby training group closely resembled the principles described within his excellent book.
Yes, way back in 1978 our training was extremely well balanced. It was heavily based on the Lydiard Principles, i.e. a strong emphasis on a periodised approach to training, building a strong and solid aerobic base, before moving to the quicker more anaerobic phases. Mr Wilby, although interested in performance, also placed a lot of emphasis on long term sustainability. He was very cautious in not to over train us, or to give us too much anaerobic work without there being an aerobic foundation. Yes, us group of young lads, and the occasional lass from Naenae College, were very fortunate to have the Wizard coaching us. And as every good coach will tell you, it is extremely important that you log your training down within a training diary. However, the thought of buying a diary when there were only a few months of the year left in 1977 just didn’t appeal. So my recording of my training had to wait until the 1st of January 1978, which just so happened to also be my 15th birthday.
Training Diaries 1978 - 1982
So what was the entry on the 1st January 1978? I quote “My Birthday. Rest until 10th”. Looking at these early entries, not much has changed in 35 years. I still simply state either the approximate distance or the run time, a brief description of the route, and a comment regarding how I felt. From Wednesday 25th January 1978: “7 miles, 65 minutes. Very hot day. Had 2-3 rests. Ran through golf sprinklers, cooled me down. Felt hot and tired, then got more relaxed, felt better,” And from Tuesday 14th February 1978: “800m at athletics. 4th Time 2min 30secs. Felt good and amazed. Really sprinted hard with 200m to go and at finish wasn’t completely stuffed.” Really interesting that way back then I included a large focus within my training diary on my emotions, how the running felt! The fact that the latest research regarding fatigue during endurance performance includes such articles as “Fatigue is a brain-derived emotion ...” (Noakes, 2012) is quite revealing. Together with my Race Focus Energy (RFE) model of fatigue being heavily dependent upon feelings / emotions suggests that maybe I knew the ‘answer’ way back then without realising it!
The five years from 1978 – 1982 were five years of tremendous change. At the start of 1978, I am a middle / back of the pack runner. At the Wellington Secondary Schools Cross Country Champs, that took place in October 1977 I finished in 77th place from a field of 96 finishers. Just for those interested, probably not many of you, but finish places for runners from the Wilby training group in the same fourth form (year10) age group race were: Chris Bryant – 12th, Peter Lucock – 19th, and Jeremy Wah – 40th. Come the start of 1978 I therefore didn’t have very high expectations of myself in terms of finishing positions. I hadn’t chosen my parents very well, and therefore didn’t have the necessary genes to be a good runner. That was what I believed back then, and as I have since discovered one’s performance is strongly influenced by one’s self-belief!
The change in terms of my self-perception of my running qualities was quite slow, but with one or two key shifts in attitude. During 1978 the two big leaps forward were the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships that took place in June, and the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Road Championships that took place in December. The cross country champs were being held way down south in Timaru. Although, not performing to the same level as the other runners in the training group, Mr Wilby still strongly encouraged me to go to the National champs. I still recall now that I felt a bit of an ‘imposter’, heading all the way to Timaru, consisting of a 3½ hour ferry journey, then a 4½ hour train journey, an overnight stop in Christchurch, then a 2½ bus trip finally to Timaru! I was convinced that I would finished close to last, competing against the best runners in New Zealand. Whether it was the fear of getting last, or simply the fact that the course was pretty well 4000 metres of ankle deep mud so running was extremely difficult, so it got down to ‘wanting it more’ rather than actual running ‘ability’, I just don’t know! But I ran probably my best race to date, finishing in 104th place out of 205 finishers in the Junior Boys (Under 16) event. Nearly, in the top half, at the National champs. I was absolutely ‘wrapped’, as we used to say back then.
On the Picton Ferry with Gary Wilby on the Way Down to the NZSSCC Champs - June 1978
Six months later, it was the National Secondary School road champs. The road champs took place at the same time as the National Secondary School track champs. Therefore all of the best runners raced the track, so the road champs contained significantly weaker fields in comparison to the cross country champs. This well known fact had a significant impact on my performance. Immediately my expectations were raised. Not only was I confident of finishing much higher up than 104th due to the weaker field, but also due to the way the age groups were set for the National Secondary School champs, being taken as under 16 as at the 31st December rather than using the usual academic year groups. Having my 16th birthday on the 1st January therefore meant that I was the oldest person in the entire field! It should therefore come as no surprise that as a result of these heightened self expectations, my performance was quite outstanding in relation to my other performances during 1978. I finished in 24th place in the Junior Boys (Under 16) 6000metre road race. Considering just over a little more than a year earlier I was only 77th best in the Wellington region. I was now 24th best in the whole country. Yes, once I obtained this outstanding result, I conveniently ignored the fact that the best runners in the country didn’t start the road race as they were racing on the track!
It would be foolish of me to conclude that my massive improvements during the year were simply due to changed expectations. In addition I had continued training regularly after school within the Wilby group. Throughout the year, he had carefully orchestrated our training, (yes I also thought orchestrated was a very apt word considering Gary Wilby was a music teacher!) Although we didn’t know it, we were mimicking the training, but to a lesser extent, of the Lydiard boys from the 1960s – Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee and Bill Baillie, all of them either Olympic medallists and/or World record holders! Our training involved developing our endurance base first with different types of runs including, the long run, sub-threshold effort runs , fartlek, aerobic intervals, and recovery runs, before progressing to the anaerobic phase, including VO2 max intervals, sausage sessions, hill repetitions and again the important recovery runs. Yes, our training programme was very well structured, that not only developed us physiologically, but also helped develop our confidence by getting us to peak for the big races, one of the key principles of the Lydiard approach to training. As highlighted by Matt Fitzgerald over 30 years later in his 2010 book titled Run – The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel, "If it does nothing else, a runner's training must make him feel prepared, because if he feels prepared, he is prepared, and if he doesn't, he isn't. The primary objective of training for every competitive runner should be to develop confidence in her ability to achieve her race goals.” Yes, Lydiard knew this key principle way back in the sixties, and fortunately, so did Gary Wilby, back in the seventies. During 1978, excluding track races, I raced 14 times and ran a total of 1044 miles.
During 1979, Gary WIlby took the last two terms of the three term school year off as he travelled around Europe on his 'Big O.E' (which stands for Overseas Experience to you non-kiwis). The after school training group didn’t function so well, so I returned back for one last season of rugby. I still raced the NZ Secondary School Cross Country and Road Championships, but now in the Senior Boys (Over 16) category. Considering during 1979 I was in the sixth form (lower sixth) I was racing against boys up to 1½ years older than me, my finish places of 64th (cross country) and 25th (road) were a gentle continuation of my improvement as a runner. During 1979, excluding track races, I raced 6 times and ran a total of 1169 miles.
I have commented about the start of 1980 in a previous blog titled Marathon Number 1 - Fletcher Marathon, Rotorua, NZ - 26th April 1980, posted in April 2010, which describes my preparation for my first ever marathon, at the young age of 17. Performances following my marathon were a significant improvement upon 1979. Whether my improvement was a result of the increased physical training I carried out preparing for the marathon, or as a result of a changed acceptance within myself that I was now a good runner, I don’t know. I would expect a combination of them both. Refer to my Blog articles to learn more about factors that influence endurance performance. My key results from 1980 were, in the order they occurred through the year; probably my biggest breakthrough race to date, even more dramatic than my 1978 national performances, was finishing in 2nd place in the Colts Under 18 regional Dorne Cup race in June, then 17th at the NZ Cross Country Champs, and finally 7th place at the NZ Road Champs at the end of the year. During 1980, excluding track races, I raced 19 times and ran a total of 2167 miles.
The year 1981 was my first year at Victoria University in Wellington, so being a student I found I had more time available to train. Turning 18 at the start of the year, I moved up into the Junior Under 20 race category so found the competition pretty tough as I was competing against boys again up to 1½ years older than me. I had some good performances finishing between 6th and 11th place in the regional races. During 1981, excluding track races, I raced 20 times and ran a total of 2520 miles, my second highest mileage year to date.
The final year of this five year review is 1982. The intention was that this would be the year that I would really perform, being 19 years old and therefore my last year competing as a Junior. Well, what a disappointment. I picked up two injuries during the year, which severely restricted my running. The injuries, combined with the excessive alcohol intake of my University student lifestyle, resulted in me gaining the name ‘Tits Mills’ after 8 weeks of non-running! I managed a 12th and 10th place at the Wellington Centre Junior cross country and road champs, both positions worse than 1981. So overall a bit of a ‘blip’ following four years of successive improvement! During 1982 I raced 10 times and ran a total of 1406 miles
Well that’s the end of my first five year review. This post is probably not typical of my previous posts, so maybe not many messages to take away from the post to aid your running. However, my UltraStu blog is sub-titled Millsy’s memories, and as I approach a significant date next week, it is a good time for a few memories.
Time to sign off; “Often one is not aware of the significance of the learning that has taken place until many, many years later. Reviewing 35 years of training, highlights the importance of the need for reflection on a more frequent basis. Discovering ‘secrets’ 35 years later could be considered a little bit too late!” Stuart Mills, 2012.
All the best with your reviews of 2012,